March 11th, 2008

THE MERMAIDS OF TIBURON (1962) **

John (Robot Monster) Mylong hires George Rowe (director of Black Mamba) to go to a mysterious island and look for some rare pearls.  Once there, he encounters a coven of topless mermaids led by Diane (Sinthia, the Devil Doll) Webber.  Timothy (Paths of Glory) Carey co-stars as a greedy treasure hunter who’s also after the pearls who gets his kicks by spear gunning mermaids.   

 

Writer/producer/director John Lamb was also responsible for the great underwater photography.  In fact, he spent so much time perfecting the cinematography that he kinda forgot to throw in much of a plot.  You can also tell that all the budget went to the underwater cameras because Lamb could afford to put a tail on only one of the mermaids (the other mermaids are seen wearing g-strings made of algae) BUT at least they are all topless.

 

The Mermaids of Tiburon is also padded with more ponderous narration (“It was here at the beginning of time where all life began.”) and stock wildlife footage (otters, sharks, etc.) than you can shake a fish stick at.  The flick moves along at a waterlogged pace, but if you’re watching this solely to ogle topless women swimming underwater, you’ll have a blast.  One thing is for sure, I’ll take these mermaids over Esther Williams any day. 

 

Of all the mind numbing narration, the line “A shark chaperone?  Well, at least she was in good hands”, was my favorite. 

 

AKA:  The Aqua Sex. 

YAMBAO (1957) **


Mexican horror stalwart Ramon Gay took a break from the Aztec Mummy series long enough to star in this uneven voodoo fueled horror musical. 

 

Yambao (Ninon Sevilla) is a young slave girl who returns home to her plantation beating on a set of forbidden drums, which is a bad omen for the superstitious slaves.  Pretty soon a plague sweeps over the slaves and people blame it all on Yambao.  The plantation owner (Gay) tries to keep everybody in line, but when the slaves try to burn her at the stake, he rescues her.  She tries to seduce him, but when he refuses, Yambao calls upon her voodoo ancestry to make him fall in love with her. 

 

It’s in color, a rarity for Mexican horror flicks, which sometimes makes the movie resemble a South of the Border Gone with the Wind.  (Gay looks a bit like Clark Gable too.)  The tribal dancing and singing are all well shot and choreographed, but some of the other songs are pretty dreadful.  Things may occasionally get bogged down, but whenever Sevilla is on screen strutting her stuff, it’s damn good times.  Sevilla is quite the spitfire and does a lot of sexy, seductive dances and her performance is compulsively watchable, but when the focus shifts to Gay and his pregnant wife, the movie turns into a leaden soap opera.  Whenever the proceedings get a tad boring, you can always amuse yourself by counting the Mexican extras dressed in blackface. 

 

Sevilla naturally gets the movie’s best line:  “The eagle doesn’t mate with the hen!”

 

AKA:  Cry of the Bewitched.  AKA:  Young and Evil.

KARATE FOR LIFE (1977) ** ½

 

Perennial bad ass Sonny (The Street Fighter) Chiba once again stars as karate master Masutatsu Oyama in this third and final installment of the trilogy that began in Karate Bull Fighter. 

 

The flick starts out with Chiba walking into a dojo and basically telling the master that his karate sucks nuts.  This pisses off the sensei and he sicks about eight dozen students on him and Chiba easily mops the floor (and I do mean mop the floor) with all of them while the opening credits roll. 

 

A sniveling wrestling promoter gets wind of Chiba’s legendary fighting skills and hires him to take on a bunch of sweaty wrestlers in the ring.  Since Chiba had already battled a charging bull and a raging bear in the previous entries, this is a piece of cake.  He’s later appalled when the yakuza backers want him to throw fights and when he refuses, they fire him.  Things take a turn for the melodramatic when Chiba saves an alcoholic prostitute from committing suicide and helps reform a gang of juvenile thieves.  To get the money needed for the ho’s treatment, Chiba agrees to become a wrestling heel and throws all his matches, but he ends up double crossing the gangsters after he gets his hands on the money.  In the end, the sensei he beat senseless (and I mean that literally since he knocked the dude’s eyeball out) during the opening credits comes back for revenge and Chiba nonchalantly tosses him off a cliff, to which Chiba proclaims, “There is no end to my way of karate!”

 

It’s not quite up to the zany heights reached by Karate Bear Fighter, but I guess anything would be a letdown after you’ve seen Chiba tussle with a guy in an unconvincing bear suit.  The fight scenes are expertly filmed and director Kazuhiko (Delinquent Girl Boss:  Worthless to Confess) Yamaguchi slyly slows down and speeds up the fight scenes not only to give you a real sense of Chiba’s mastery, but it also gives the fights a unique sense of rhythm.  The wrestling scenes are equally well done (I especially like how the names of the wrestling moves were juxtaposed over the action) and seeing the contrasting styles of the wrestlers with Chiba’s considerable karate skills were quite a treat.    

 

The film’s biggest problem is it’s draggy middle section when it shifts gears from being a karate chopping action movie to a syrupy soap opera.  Things improve dramatically once a bunch of ninjas show up to kick Chiba’s ass, but the unfortunate lapse into melodrama really hampers the film’s momentum.  Also the film’s hall of mirrors finale shamelessly rips off the ending of Enter the Dragon and doesn’t really gel with the rest of the movie’s vibe.  Still Chiba kicks mucho ass and it’s a worthy close to the trilogy, even though he doesn’t mutilate any rampaging animals with his bare hands.

ONE BODY TOO MANY (1944) * ½

 

Insurance salesman Jack Haley (The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz) goes to an eccentric millionaire’s house for the reading of his will on a dark and stormy night.  The squabbling relatives are all bound to the house until the old coot is interred into the family vault, even after a murderer starts bumping off the family members in hopes of getting his hands on the inheritance.  Bela Lugosi plays the creepy butler and his Glen or Glenda co-star Lyle Talbot is one of the bickering relatives.

 

Yep, it’s yet another one of those Old Dark House comedy/murder/mystery/whodunit deals.  This premise had pretty much been thoroughly run into the ground by 1944, but if you’re a fan of the genre, you might groove to this otherwise creaky flick.  If you’re a Lugosi fan like me, you’ll be able to suck up most of the rampant clichés (the relatives get stranded because the bridge gets washed out in the storm, the murderer uses secret passageways to get around the house, dead bodies end up in peculiar places, etc.) and tolerate the unfunny comic relief (Haley is particularly grating) and just enjoy his performance.  He’s severely underutilized and his role is rather small, but to me, any movie he’s in is worth watching just to see Lugosi, especially when he says things like “There are too many rats in this house!”  Otherwise, it’s pretty tough going. 

NIGHT MONSTER (1942) **

 

A wealthy recluse becomes a quadriplegic after three doctors botch a surgery.  The crippled millionaire invites the doctors to his house for a demonstration of an Indian mystic’s power of mental materialization.  The doctors get bumped off one by one in the night and the police are called in to investigate.  While the detectives question the suspects, the hired help starts dropping like flies too.  In the end, we learn that the old timer could walk around on “materialized legs” to murder his victims. 

 

Night Monster is nothing more than a middling B movie murder/mystery whodunit, but since it’s a Universal production, the budget allowed for a slicker appearance and more atmosphere (love those foggy Universal backlot scenes) than you might expect.  The movie earns points for progressive thinking as the role of the prominent psychiatrist is played by a woman, but ultimately the film is too muddled and features way too many supporting characters to be satisfying on a whole.  The subplot about the millionaire’s sister being slowly driven insane goes nowhere and does nothing to advance the plot.  And try not to piss yourself laughing when the Indian dude hopelessly tries to explain everything in the end. 

 

Bela Lugosi may have received top billing, but this was just another throwaway butler role for him.  He isn’t given a whole lot to do, but he makes the most out of his smallish part, which adds up to about ten minutes of screen time.  Lionel (Son of Frankenstein) Atwill co-stars as a skeptical scientist, and like Lugosi is thoroughly wasted in a minuscule role.  Director Ford Beebe also was behind the camera for Bela’s memorable serial, The Phantom Creeps.

 

The crusty cripple gets the movie’s best line when he says, “Nobody’s going to make a slaughterhouse out of my home and get away with it!” 

 

AKA:  House of Mystery.  

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943) ** ½

Mad scientist John Carradine steals an ape named Cheela from the circus so he can do glandular experiments on it.  He transfers a woman’s glands to the ape and transforms her into a beautiful mute woman played by Acquanetta (The Lost Continent).  She falls in love with an animal trainer (Milburn Stone) but when he spurns her for the love of Evelyn (The Wolf Man) Ankers she literally goes ape and regresses back to her simian state and kills.  In the end, the ape murders Carradine and saves Stone from a lion attack before being senselessly gunned down by the police. 

 

Captive Wild Woman is a relatively minor entry into the never ending subgenre of ape man movies, but it’s at least notable for featuring an ape WOMAN.  The best part of the film is the make-up of Acquanetta’s half simian appearance.  I particularly liked the Wolf Man style transformation as Acquanetta slowly changed into an ape, but I wish there were more of them.  The film suffers from an unmercifully weak and abrupt ending, but you can’t be too upset by it since the movie moves at a steady clip and has a running time of barely an hour.

 

Circus impresario Clyde Beatty doubled for Stone during the scenes involving lions and tigers and the plentiful lion taming footage is a highlight of the movie.  Carradine is as fun to watch as ever and he’s pretty great, especially in the operating scenes.  Even better is the sultry performance by Acquanetta who makes quite an impression, even though her screen time is limited.  She returned the next year for the sequel, Jungle Woman.  Director Edward Dmytryk later went on to direct such classics as The Caine Mutiny.